Protocol | Enterprise

Andy Jassy overruled AWS recommendation a senior exec be fired for discrimination, sources say

The parameters of the case involving AWS' Joshua Burgin are similar to other ones filed by current and former AWS executives. But in this instance, it went straight to the top.

Andy Jassy

Andy Jassy allegedly prevented Joshua Burgin's firing.

Photo: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy intervened to prevent the firing of a top executive after an internal HR report recommended his termination following claims of discriminatory behavior within AWS, two sources familiar with the matter told Protocol.

According to the sources, a Black female AWS employee told HR in 2019 that Joshua Burgin had made what she believed were discriminatory comments to her. At the time, Burgin was chief of staff to AWS engineering legend and senior leadership team member Charlie Bell. An internal AWS team investigated the allegations and recommended in a report that Burgin be fired, the sources said.

The sources said that a group of senior Amazon executives — including HR Vice President Ian Wilson, HR Senior Vice President Beth Galetti and Bell himself — met to discuss the report about Burgin. During that meeting, the sources said, those executives decided to meet with Jassy, who was then CEO of AWS, before making a final decision on Burgin's fate.

But that meeting with Jassy never happened, the sources said. Instead, they said, Bell had a private conversation with Jassy and urged him to intervene to prevent Burgin's termination. The sources said it was ultimately Jassy who made the decision to keep Burgin. He remained at the company, becoming general manager of AWS Outposts in June 2020.

Neither Burgin nor Bell, who left Amazon in August, responded to requests for comment.

Presented with a detailed account of the the events described here, Amazon did not dispute any of the facts, responding instead with an emailed statement: "We take all allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate them fully. In this instance, we conducted a thorough investigation and took what we believe was the appropriate corrective action." The company declined to disclose what corrective action was taken.

Famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred is now representing the employee involved in the Burgin case, sources previously told Protocol. Allred, who was also presented with a detailed account of the events, declined to comment.

The revelation is evidence that in at least one case, top AWS executives sidelined a team tasked with conducting internal probes into allegations of misbehavior. It's also further evidence of claims made by employees that the process to review such reports is not "fair, objective or transparent," according to a petition signed by hundreds of employees.

The parameters of the case are similar to other ones filed by current and former AWS executives. For example, Charlotte Newman, who remains employed by Amazon, alleged in her own suit a culture of discrimination rooted in both sexism and racism. Amazon is now facing several lawsuits over alleged discrimination and sexual harassment at AWS.

The company solicited Oppenheimer Investigations Group to conduct an internal probe into employee complaints over the process to report such claims, sources previously told Protocol.

Jassy became CEO of Amazon in July after founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to transition into an executive chairman role in January. AWS is now run by Adam Selipsky, who was a longtime sales executive during the early days of the cloud pioneer's ascent into one of the most powerful companies in enterprise tech before leaving to become CEO of Tableau.

Update 9/2: Although, as noted, Amazon did not dispute any of the facts in this article before publication, the company provided an additional statement on Thursday in which it said the following: "The suggestion that Andy overruled a recommendation provided to him in this case is not correct. As with any disciplinary decision, as more data was presented and discussions continued, opinions on the appropriate course of action evolved. The final recommendation was the one ultimately pursued." A company spokesperson declined to answer follow-up questions on the record.

Protocol | Policy

Why Twitch’s 'hate raid' lawsuit isn’t just about Twitch

When is it OK for tech companies to unmask their anonymous users? And when should a violation of terms of service get someone sued?

The case Twitch is bringing against two hate raiders is hardly black and white.

Photo: Caspar Camille Rubin/Unsplash

It isn't hard to figure out who the bad guys are in Twitch's latest lawsuit against two of its users. On one side are two anonymous "hate raiders" who have been allegedly bombarding the gaming platform with abhorrent attacks on Black and LGBTQ+ users, using armies of bots to do it. On the other side is Twitch, a company that, for all the lumps it's taken for ignoring harassment on its platform, is finally standing up to protect its users against persistent violators whom it's been unable to stop any other way.

But the case Twitch is bringing against these hate raiders is hardly black and white. For starters, the plaintiff here isn't an aggrieved user suing another user for defamation on the platform. The plaintiff is the platform itself. Complicating matters more is the fact that, according to a spokesperson, at least part of Twitch's goal in the case is to "shed light on the identity of the individuals behind these attacks," raising complicated questions about when tech companies should be able to use the courts to unmask their own anonymous users and, just as critically, when they should be able to actually sue them for violating their speech policies.

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Protocol | Fintech

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Protocol | Workplace

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Phishing and ransomware are on the rise. Is your remote workforce prepared?

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Protocol | Enterprise

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